IP Management Step 3: Inventing Potential Solutions

This step comes third because it does little good to invent product solutions until you know 1) what drives value and 2) the major issues your product faces relative to producing value.  That focuses your ideation and intellectual property creation on that which can bring your stakeholders (and you) the most value.

The method that I have used that has been most effective is to:

  1. Brainstorm or ideate solutions to the issues you’ve identified.
  2. Use those as input to ideate multiple entire new product concepts.

Assemble a diverse group of 8 to 15 people from within your company (your design team, engineers, marketing people, industrial designers, graphic designers, operations people, service people, etc.).

Pick the top 12 to 15 issues to address.  Write a brainstorming question that asks the participants to create tangible solutions to the issue – as many as they can.  Don’t circulate the questions ahead of time.

Go off site.  Better to ideate in an environment without the daily interruptions.  You’ll need 2 to 3 days to do the project justice.

After an introductory presentation and discussion of the value drivers you discovered in step 1 and the issues you identified in step 2, you can start brainstorming.  I suggest using nominal group process (everyone privately writes or draws solutions, and then the facilitator leads a discussion of each person’s ideas one by one).  The discussion should be brief, fast paced, and follow traditional brainstorming rules.  I like posting the ideas on the wall (use Post-It Notes, 3-M Post-It easel pads, and 3-M Post-It correction tape).

You will create a lot more ideas for each issue than you can use.  Some will be clearly unworkable or even silly (if not, your brainstorming is too tightly controlled).  Some will be good ideas, but not right for the product you are designing – keep those for future use in other projects.  Some will be candidates for use in this project.

You may want to identify the ideas that the group feels are best.  I learned to do this by asking the participants to vote for their favorite ideas with colored sticky dots.  This method lets everyone see the group consensus and re-familiarize themselves with all of the ideas.

Finally, ask each participant to create their own complete product concept, using any of the ideas presented as well as any new ones they have.  For the best results, ask them to present their concepts.  Record video because they will say things about their concept that they don’t write down or draw.

Voila!  You now have multiple new product concepts that should reflect solutions that add value to the issues you wanted to address.  Cool!

Two parting thoughts.

  1. In this step you have created two different kinds of intellectual property – keep it, record it, and determine if it is worthy of patent protection.  The first type is answers to the individual issues that your face.  You should have LOTS of potential solutions that are not laughable.  The second type is complete product concepts.  In the next step, you’ll select the best to develop and deploy.  Keep, record, and evaluate the rest.  Just because they weren’t selected doesn’t mean they are not valuable.
  2. Someone is likely to suggest that your company can’t afford to send that many people off site for that long.  Here’s why that is false.  The value you create in your products sets the stage for corporate success – or failure.  Those busy people won’t have those busy jobs for long unless your company delivers valuable products.

Next:  Selecting and Deploying the Best Solutions